World AIDS Day: Everywhere. Today is the day set aside to increase awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education about HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, it is estimated that about 35 million people are are living with HIV/AIDS. The good news is that the rate of new HIV infections worldwide are still declining, as have AIDS-related deaths. Where access to antiretroviral (ARV) medications is available, AIDS changed from being a fatal disease to a chronic one, albeit a very serious one. Those who are on ARVs can now expect a near-normal lifespan.
The bad news is that men who have sex with men (MSM) made up 62% of all new HIV infections in 2011. Alarmingly, African-American men make up about 36% of that category (PDF: 545KB / 2 pages). Young people under 25 represent more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year (26 percent) and most of them (60 percent) don’t know they’re infected. All told, an estimated 75% of people with HIV do not have their virus under control because about quarter of all people with HIV don’t even know they have it. Do you know your status? Find out today. You can even do it from the comfort of your own home, so there’s no excuse not to.
Croatians to Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Ban. More than 1,000 gay rights supporters marched through Zagrab yesterday ahead of today’s referendum that could outlaw marriage equality in the European Union’s newest member state. The referendum placed on the ballot by a governmental commission last October on the very same day that Croatia’s foreign minister Vesna Pusić was welcoming top human rights officials from the U.S. and Europe at a meeting of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (IGLA) European branch in the Croatian capital. Croatia had already approved a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in order to meet one of the conditions of EU membership. Placing the marriage ban on the ballot was seen as a dramatic reversal of Croatia’s commitments to human rights. A recent poll shows that 68% of Croatians say they will vote to support the ban. It also has support from 104 members of Croatia’s 151-seat parliament.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Connecticut Passes It’s First Sodomy Law: 1642. “If any man lyeth with mankind as hee lyeth with woman, both of them shave committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death. — Levit. 21. 13.” If it’s any consolation, the same penalty also applied to adultery.
15 YEARS AGO: Miami Reinstates Gay Rights Ordinance: 1998. More than two decades earlier, Miami first passed a gay rights ordinance (see Jan 18) which was eventually overturned following an acrimonious campaign led by Florida Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant (see Jun 7). That victory led Bryant to spearhead campaigns to overturn similar ordinances in St Paul, Minnesota (see Apr 25) and Wichita, Kansas (see May 9). That tidal wave reached its high-water mark in 1978 when voters in Eugene, Oregon turned back a Bryant-inspired attempt to rescind that city’s anti-discrimination ordinance (see Nov 7). That same day, California voters turned down the Brigg’s Initiative, which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools.
In the decades that followed, eleven states, 27 counties and 136 cities had passed anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing and employment. But gays and lesbians in Miami, where the anti-gay backlash against such legislation first became a major political force, remained without those protections. That changed in 1998, when the Miami-Date Commission voted 7-6 to approve an ordinance barring discrimination in housing and employment. The vote came after more than four hours of public debate while opponents of the measure prayed on their knees outside.
“It says that we’ve grown up,” said Carlos Hazday, a local gay activist who spearheaded the campaign for the ordinance. “We’re not perfect, we still have differences, but we’re learning from our mistakes.” Miami Beach mayor Neisen Kasdin welcomed the vote after arguing that an image of intolerance was bad for the area’s tourism-dependent economy. “Greater Miami is no longer a provincial, backwater town,” he said. “Let’s not retreat from our destiny as a major international city.” Reporters seeking comment from Anita Bryant tried leaving messages on an answering machine at her theater in Branson, Missouri. They were apparently unaware that she had been forced to close her theater and declare bankruptcy.
Matthew Shepard: 1976-1998. I’m not sure what to say about him that hasn’t already been said. He has become so much larger in death than he was in life — except, of course, to those who knew him. For the rest of us, he’s an icon, not unlike the golden images venerated in Orthodox churches of impossibly heroic saints who suffered their unimaginable tortures in stoic silence. Most of what we know about him can be summed up in a simple creed: he suffered, died, and was buried. One popular description of how he was found — tied to a fence with his arms outstretched — took on religious significance, even if the image it portrayed was inaccurate. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, has always been uncomfortable with the deification.
“People call him a martyr, but I take exception to that,” she said. “I’ve tried very hard to keep him real. It’s unfair to make him larger than life. He had foibles. He made mistakes. He was not a perfect child by any means.
“When he was killed he was not on a victory march or a protest march or anything that you would consider fighting for gay rights. He was just living his life as a 21-year-old college student who smoked too much, drank too much and didn’t study enough. He was a college kid trying to figure out his future.”
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As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.